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Shoe Fetish: All Alexandra Koltun wants to do is dance, dance.

Red Shoe Diary

'The Red Shoes' is a tragic story that may never have been staged again, but for one man's determination

By Julia Chiapella

IN A BIT of balletic mining that gives artistic weight to the adage "one person's trash is another's treasure," Ballet San Jose's artistic director Dennis Nahat rescued the Royal Danish Ballet's 1998 production of The Red Shoes or Legs of Fire from its date with the dumpster.

The Royal Danish Ballet--which staged the production in 1998--had relegated the production to the circular file. "Unless they're old classics," Nahat explained, "[European ballet companies] just don't use them again. They go on and do things that are different. They didn't think [Red Shoes] was something that they wanted as part of the current repertoire."

As a result, Red Shoes, including all its scenery and costumes, would have disappeared into the annals of dance history had Nahat not resurrected the piece.

"It was a magnificent work," Nahat opined. "It would have been like taking a great work of art and throwing it away. No one could build this production again. It would be lost and that would be a crime against art."

With the help of Royal Danish Ballet director Flemming Flindt, choreographer of the Red Shoes, Nahat was able to acquire the ballet for the opening slot of Ballet San Jose's 2001-02 season--where it will make its American premiere. The company had originally slated Don Quixote to open the season, but Nahat says all that changed with the downturn in the economy: creating new sets from scratch suddenly didn't seem financially prudent. With the sets and costumes of Red Shoes fully intact, Nahat made it his replacement.

Flindt's Red Shoes is based on a trilogy of sources: the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name, the 1948 film classic starring Moira Shearer, and the brief but brilliant life of Royal Danish Ballet dancer Elna Lassen. Lassen rose to fame in the 1920s and it's her story above all--the passionate determination and obsessive desires of a young woman whose sole aim is to dance--that gives this production its dramatic arc.

With a new score by Eric Norby and plenty of on-site help from designer Joe Vanek, who designed the original production, Nahat says Red Shoes has everything one would want in a performance: "It's total theatricality."

Indeed, to hear Nahat talk about Red Shoes it sounds more like an evening of performance art than dance. The production incorporates jazz, classical, folk, drama, acting, singing and a few other genres including acrobats and a performing dog.

The dancer orginally scheduled to perform the role of Lassen, internationally famous prima ballerina Silja Schandorff of the Royal Danish Ballet, ran into problems getting a visa. Instead, Alexandra Koltun--Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley's newest major ballerina--will dance the role.

Pointing to the universality of the theme, Nahat said Red Shoes will resonate with everyone, whether they be dancer or politician. "It's a theme that runs through our industry, the artist that isn't understood. It's the Marilyn Monroe story; it's the Elvis story. We have politicians who want to do more but aren't understood and they're stopped somewhere," he said. "They're in the red shoes."

The Red Shoes or Legs of Fire plays Oct. 18-21, Thursday 7:30pm, Friday-Saturday 8pm, Sunday 1:30 and 7:30pm, at the Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd, San Jose; tickcets are $20-$68. (408.288.2820)

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From the October 18-24, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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